What Are You Scraping Off Your Tongue?

Cat's Tongue

Our oral care practices can leave us with some strange questions, like, what is the stuff I scrape off my tongue? We get it, the multi-colored and strange film removed by a tongue scraper may not be something you’d freely discuss with your dentist. So, we’ll get into tongue scraping by investigating exactly what it is that a tongue scraper removes. 

Tongue Scraping: A Refresher of the Basics

Consider Terra & Co. your scraping tongue support system. We’ve already answered one of the most common questions around the practice, do you use a tongue scraper before or after brushing, and are now ready to get down and dirty with some other questions. 

First, what does tongue scraping do? Well, as the best way to clean your tongue (yes, better than a toothbrush), a tongue scraper removes the food and harmful bacteria that accumulate on your tongue’s rough surface. This provides benefits for your entire mouth—including a fresher breath! 

Using a tongue scraper is easy, too. Simply place the scraper at the back of your tongue, gently apply pressure, and move the scraper in a forward direction. The important thing isn’t really how you clean your tongue, but how often. As with other practices, like oil pulling, every day—or even twice a day—is best for an all-around treat for your teeth. 

Gentle Green Tongue Scraper

What Exactly Are You Scraping Off Your Tongue?

So, if we were to get a magnifying glass out to take a look at the tongue scraping practice, just what would we see? To answer this, we’d want to consider the three common things you might notice on your tongue: white, yellow, and black film.

White stuff on tongue

Often referred to simply as “white tongue,” some experience a thick white coating on all or the top part of the tongue. It may also be accompanied by irritation, redness, bad breath, or an unattractive “hairy” look. 

The thick white film is caused by debris (food and sugar), bacteria, or dead cells that get trapped between the papillae on the surface of the tongue. Actually, this is what accounts for the “hairy” look you might see. 

Papillae are the little bumps on your tongue that help to grip onto food while chewing. They also contain your taste buds! When they’re coated in white, the string-like papillae may look like fur. 

Worse, the papillae may swell up and, in some cases, become inflamed. This creates a larger surface area, which may inadvertently trap more plaque, food, and bacteria. Untreated, this accumulation of bacteria may contribute to poor gum health, and even gum disease. 

There are a few common causes of “white tongue:”

  • Oral thrush (common in old and young people)
  • Antibiotic use
  • Unhealthy diets (low in fruits and vegetables, iron, vitamin B12)
  • Weak immune system or fever
  • Dehydration
  • Tobacco use
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Breathing through your mouth
  • Using cancer treatments

Some causes may be a little more severe:

  • Leukoplakia: overgrowth of cells in the mouth’s lining
  • Oral lichen planus: a long-term inflammatory condition caused by an immune disorder
  • Geographic tongue: occurs during tongue regrowth, when some layers shed quickly, leaving other areas tender and prone to infection
  • Syphilis: a bacterial infection and STI that may produce a white tongue

Yellow stuff on tongue

Similarly, having a yellow film on the tongue is commonly referred to as “yellow tongue.” In this case, it’s a harmless buildup of dead skin cells that collect on the papillae. 

The yellow color is a result of the enlarged papillae that collect bacteria which produce colored pigments. Alternatively, food, tobacco, and other substances may stain the enlarged papillae, also producing a yellow color. 

There are just a few causes of “yellow tongue:”

  • Dry mouth
  • Breathing through your mouth
  • Geographic tongue
  • Jaundice (which could be a sign of a serious medical condition)

Black stuff on tongue

Although it may be alarming to see a darkly-colored tongue, “black tongue” is generally nothing to be too concerned about. However, it may be a little uncomfortable. 

Like with white or yellow tongue film, “black tongue” is a result of dead skin cells, bacteria, and other substances collecting on the papillae of the tongue. In this case, these contaminants make the tongue take on a black appearance. In addition, forming a “hairy” coating on the tongue may result in feelings like tingling, gagging, or even burning. 

The dead skin cells are the main culprit for the tongue’s black appearance. Typically, these are shed from the surface of the tongue, helping it to maintain its healthy pink appearance. 

There are a few reasons why dead skin cells aren’t shed:

  • Improper oral hygiene (especially from not cleaning the tongue or rinsing the mouth)
  • Liquid diet free of solid foods that help to clear the dead skin cells away from the tongue
  • Side effects of medication
  • Low saliva production (as saliva makes it easier to swallow the dead skin cells)

Then, there are a few reasons why your tongue might take on a black color:

  • Tea or coffee consumption
  • Tobacco
  • Antibiotics
  • Harsh mouthwashes (especially those that contain peroxide)
  • Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol)

Tongue Scraping Benefits and Limitations

When it comes to restoring your tongue to its natural pink color and ridding the mouth of problem-causing bacteria and debris, a tongue scraper is the ultimate tool. It’s recommended for use in addressing all three types of colored tongue conditions. 

However, if the color of your tongue changes significantly, and that change persists for longer than two weeks, it might be wise to see a doctor. Similarly, swelling, pain, or lumps on the tongue might also warrant a visit to your healthcare practitioner. 

Yellow, White, or Black? Go Green Instead

While in most cases it’s not a cause for serious concern, no one likes a tongue that looks vastly different from a healthy pink one. Fortunately, a  Gentle Green Tongue Scraper can restore your tongue to its natural vitality quickly and easily. Made with long-lasting, medical-grade, sustainable stainless steel, it’ll help to make our planet a little greener, too! 

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